Panetta Accepts Distinguished Public Service Award
WASHINGTON, June 22, 2012 – During his acceptance speech for the Edmund S. Muskie Distinguished Public Service Award at the National Press Club here yesterday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said the nation’s long-term security and prosperity depend upon a sound budget strategy and diplomatic ties.
“I’m humbled by this award,” Panetta said, adding that Muskie “was a man of extraordinary personal integrity and, as a senator, a true master of the legislative process.”
Muskie’s long public service career included a stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He would later serve as the governor of Maine, a member of the U.S. Senate, and as U.S. Secretary of State under President Jimmy Carter. In the 1968 presidential election, Muskie was nominated as the running mate for presidential candidate Hubert H. Humphrey Jr. Humphrey and Muskie were defeated by Richard M. Nixon and his vice presidential running mate, Spiro T. Agnew.
Prior to the 1972 presidential election, Muskie was a front-runner for his party’s presidential nomination to face off against Nixon, who was seeking a second term. However, Muskie would lose that nomination to George S. McGovern, who was defeated by Nixon.
Muskie chaired the Center for National Policy Board following his retirement from government service. He passed away in 1996.
The Center for National Policy is an independent “think tank” dedicated to advancing the economic and national security of the United States, according to the organization’s website.
Panetta recalled Muskie’s legacy of fighting for positive change, specifically during Muskie’s tenure as Center for National Policy chairman, when he strived to reestablish diplomatic ties with Vietnam in the 1990s.
Since those efforts, Panetta has been the first secretary of defense to visit Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay since the war. He described his trip there this month as “a very moving experience.”
“The growing defense partnership that we now have with Vietnam would’ve been unimaginable two decades ago,” Panetta said. “The fact that this transformation has taken place is truly a tribute to the vision of Ed Muskie and the work of the Center for National Policy.”
The secretary also acknowledged home-front challenges, as Congress and the DOD grapple with high deficits and mounting debt in the shadow of sequestration. Sequestration refers to a mechanism built into the Budget Control Act that would trigger an additional $500 billion across-the-board cut in defense spending over the next decade if Congress doesn’t identify that level of spending cuts by January.
“We have responded … to directions from the Congress to reduce the Defense budget over 10 years by $487 billion dollars … and we approach that carefully,” Panetta said.
The secretary outlined a strategy he developed with the service secretaries and service chiefs within a more practical defense budget.
In addition to refocusing forces to the Asia-Pacific region, Panetta said he seeks a leaner, flexible, and quickly deployable force that leverages the cutting edge of technology.
The strategy, Panetta said, also includes an “innovative rotational presence” in which U.S. troops deploy around the globe, providing training and developing capabilities of partner nations, while building partnerships and alliances.
Shrewd investments in space, cyberspace, unmanned vehicles, and Special Forces, the secretary continued, will help ensure the U.S. maintains its superior defense capability in an era of fiscal restraint.
The secretary urged Capitol Hill legislators to work with the DOD to resolve budget issues and avoid deep cuts that could “hollow out the force.”
“If there are men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line in order to be able to defend this country, then there certainly should be elected leaders who are willing to make the tough decisions necessary to solve the problems this country’s facing,” Panetta said.
Panetta closed with a tribute to Muskie and a call for all to work together for the common good of the nation.
“Let us honor Ed Muskie's legacy by reaffirming our commitment to doing whatever is necessary to fulfill that dream that his parents, my parents, and your parents have for this country -- that of giving our children a better life,” Panetta said.